Design and Technical Aspects

The baritone saxophone, or "bari" as it is affectionately called, is one of a series of musical instruments invented by Adolphe Sax in 1840. It is classed a woodwind (it uses a reed to produce sound) in the saxophone family. The lowest member of the "conventional" saxes, it rounds out the group by playing into the bass clef range, though music for it is written in treble clef in order to conform with the others in its family.

The bari, being the lowest of the conventional saxophones, is also the largest. Though its frame is curved to make it more compact, if stretched out it would be about eight feet long. The incredible length of the bari allows it to reach incredibly low notes; the longer an instruments' body is, the greater distance sound must travel to leave the instrument and the less energy it has (and consequently lower pitch).

Classifying the bari as a woodwind is something of a misnomer. Though the bari does use a reed, the prerequisite for membership in the group, it is made of brass with tapered bore. But, to make the look more interesting, most baris are colored by gold or silver plating. The different platings also produce slightly different tones, with gold slightly richer than silver.

Playing the Baritone Saxophone

The bari's fingerings are extremely similar to a clarinet's upper register, with every note but "C" being the same. Also, the presence of an octave key on it makes it possible to jump octaves without learning new fingerings.

Probably the hardest part about playing the baritone is the embouchure required. In order to produce the deep sounds that make the bari what it is, an incredibly relaxed embouchure is required; your bottom lip should hardly be touching the reed. Tightening your lips also causes the bari to jump up an octave, which can be an incredible annoyance to new players. The best way to remedy this problem is to relax; try not to concentrate on playing and let your mind wander a little. Taking a small break can also be helpful if you have the time.

Tonal Quality

The bari's unique tone is what enamored me to the instrument in the first place. The notes, especially as you go down the scale, are incredibly deep. When you go down low enough, the notes vibrate the instrument, producing a sound almost like a fog horn. The bari can also be an incredibly loud instrument, able to outplay almost any other traditional orchestra instrument. The over-powering effect it has on other instruments is part of the reason why it never caught on much with big orchestras, though there is some classical bari music out there. The bari, along with the other saxes, is instead the master of jazz and an important component in rock bands. It provides the bass line for most bands, balancing out the higher-pitched alto and tenor saxophones. The bari can also be played solo, with one of the most famous bari soloists being Henry Carney playing music composed by Duke Ellington.

Important Artists



Cool Jazz

Hard Bop and Modern Mainstream


Modern Swing



  • The Baritone Saxophone-"Lumbering Leviathan or Versatile Voice?" by Tony Denton
  • Thanks to drownszurf for additional artist names :-)

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